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Making Sense of Abstract Art

Gary Peterson

Blog #12 of 48




April 17th, 2017 - 03:06 PM

Making Sense of Abstract Art

A recent discussion here at FAA (Towards Abstraction) inspired me to formulate the following thoughts and create this piece of abstract art:

When the eye sends light signals to the brain, those impulses go through the Lateral Geniculate Nucleii to the visual cortex (the projection screen in the back of the head) which then routes the signals back to the LGN via the information processing channels of the subconscious including memory, associations, personality and all other so-called intentional states of mind like beliefs and desires which are extensions of the intellect and emotions, and which account for things like empathy and spirituality in art and religion.

Without this perceptual feedback, the owner of the brain cannot recognize the image before his eyes. For example, that person might describe seeing something that has a five-pointed polar array connected with lines, but he doesn't see a star as we know it (or a face or a salad fork, etc.) Like a dog watching TV, he sees only an ambiguous blur of light and shapes.

An artist can also imagine (visualize) an object and paint a picture of it, but if we eliminate any referent, real or imagined, all that's left is the mental abstraction which is as unrecognizable as the front (reticular) half of the vision. Now substitute this strange back-half of the mental configuration with some random concept - say a circle to represent motion - and paint a picture of it. Then say you deduce that a straight line is needed to support that symbolic "wheel" and add it in. With color, texture, juxtaposition of elements, etc. the artist adds deeper meanings to his vision, or he might add a purely decorative element for the heck of it, and so on and so forth in a push-pull process of aesthetic judgments until we have a satisfying entity that is both self-referential yet based on our beliefs and desires. The process toggles between focus and distraction (conscious), instinct and reflex (sub-conscious) to arrive at a construct of pure abstraction.

John McDermott posed the question of "how a blind person would express (on) canvas?" It reminded me of an account of a man, blind at birth, that became an accomplished guitarist. In his adult years, a surgical procedure gave him sight for the first time and (after meeting the wife and kids, etc.) someone showed him his guitar for the first time. He had no idea what it was - not a clue. This thing with which he was so intimately familiar through touch and tone was totally unrecognizable to him upon sight. He had only ever "seen" it with his hands which shrink the "visible" world to an arm's length. Beyond that, I suspect he could detect interior spaces by the echoes and acoustic resonances of sound in a room (the abstract properties of musical composition are something else altogether).

Trying to imagine the world without sight, I created this abstract visual representation of the sensations of touch and tones while playing the guitar as "seen" inside of my head without any reference to the instrument's outward appearance. Only the area where the two hands touch the guitar fills the picture frame. Beyond that is nothingness without eyesight. Color is a property of light (vision) but also of sound, both being functions of wave frequency.

The amorphous shape at left is where the palm of the hand or thumb touches the back of the (guitar) neck. The white spots are the fingertips playing an Am6 (A minor sixth) chord - my favorite. The four flat ovals at top left are where the left-hand fingers wrap around the fret board. The white dot at top right is where the little finger rests on the soundboard for a finger-picking style. The crescents are fingernails (but feel free to perceive them as some kind of lunar calendar or whatnot if you prefer). The strings and frets are obvious; they can be "seen" (anticipated) by touch. The prong at the bottom, just left of center, is the occasional zinger, the twanging sound of the fingers scraping across the bronze wound bass strings.

As fascinating as the parallels are between light and sound, the differences are also profound. I used color as a convenient analogy in this rendering but I would emphasize that a blind person has no concept of color as we know it. Then again, Ray and Stevie (Jose, Doc, Blind Lemon, et al) demonstrate the expanded resources and enhanced musical connections possible in brains that are free from the demands of visual processing. Those acquired sensibilities are beyond our experience except as enrapt listeners, but I hope that I've provided a reasonable visual model with Touch Tones. (click below)

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Innisfail, Qu

And don't rest on your laurels. May I suggest (visionary teacher within me can't resist) you apply the work to large canvases, min. 48 inches. Kandinsky worked at it hard!

Innisfail, Qu

'Sense and sensibilities' solo abstract exhibition along with the music. Now that would be something. You've tapped into your deep, deep, DEEP creative well and voila la la! Unique and wonderful work Gary, keep them coming.

John Mc Dermott

9 Years Ago


Gary, what a well written piece, thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Begs the question as to what lies really beyond the visible spectrum, save the ‘infra’ frequencies. And again we know that our senses are constantly being bombarded to a point where many want shut out the world. Perhaps we do need imagine that primal world of no distraction.

Gary Peterson

9 Years Ago

Rochester Hills, MI

1.) Anne - Thank you but you're too kind, so just stop that now - O.K., later. 2.) Carmen - Glad you like. That tune was played on a 6-string with the bass E tuned down to D, but I do have a 12-string offering (a way-old Stones tune called "Connection") that I will post when I get the chance - but fair warning: I sing on that one. Thanks for listening!

Carmen Hathaway

9 Years Ago

Portage La Prairie, MB

Hey guitar pickin' man and I just shared a grin listening to you on your -- sounds like a 12 string? I'm still grinnin' :) Love the clarity and confidence of your playing.

Centralia, WA

Gary, you realize, of course that fully half of the FAA audience has fallen insanely in love with you and the other half wishes they were you. Intelligence, talent, wit and the ability to coax us all into your world are gifts, my good man. Thanks for sharing your wonderful talents.